Friday, June 24, 2022

7 Questions With Bill Shaffer, Author of The Scandalous Hamiltons



After spending thirty-five years in the design profession in New York, Bill Shaffer made the decision to change the focus of his career. He took a leap and returned to grad school and earned an M.A. in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies from Parsons, The New School in 2017. He has worked as a Research Assistant for Paul Goldberger on his latest book, Ballpark: Baseball in The American City, (Knopf, 2019) and for Laura Auricchio's contribution to A True Friend of The Cause: Lafayette and the Antislavery Movement, (Grolier Club, 2016). He conducts historical research and writes about issues of architecture and design for authors and design consultancies. The Scandalous Hamiltons, about a Gilded Age scandal involving the descendants of Alexander Hamilton, founding father. Although the case dominated newspaper reporting for quite a while then, it is little known today. The book is set to be published July 26, 2022.

1. How and when did you get hooked on history?

 My father loved to learn about history. When I was a kid and our family went on vacation, we always pulled over to read historical markers on the side of a road and almost every trip involved stopping at least one historical museum. Every description card in a given exhibit was read in its entirety before moving to the next one. So there wasn’t one particular moment or event that got me hooked, it was more by osmosis.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

 The interest I developed in history at an early age has carried through to the present day. I am now the dad who pulls over to read historical markers on the side of the road and plans a stop in at least one historical museum when on vacation. 

3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?

 History has made an enormous change in my professional life. Whereas the study of history was previously of general interest to me, it is now how I make my living. The research, writing, and publication of The Scandalous Hamiltons marks a profound shift in how I spend my days, the people I meet (such as yourself), and the opportunities I now have. I am deeply appreciative and grateful about all of this.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

 History informs us. Things that occur today can appear to be new, but often times we can go back in history and find parallels to a current situation. One example from The Scandalous Hamiltons: Advocates for both Ray and Eva used the media to push their particular side of the story in the divorce proceedings and eventual settlement of his estate. These advocates’ motivation was not necessarily to sway a legal outcome, but to “win” in the court of public opinion. We learn about scandals today in a much broader array of media outlets, but the premise of media manipulation is the same. Ray and Eva are a cautionary tale to, perhaps, not take everything that one sees or hears in the news at face value. 

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

 I have always been interested in the events of the 1760-80s that led to the formation of this country. There are some incredible individuals, both virtuous and flawed, who advanced the cause of independence. And there is still a largely untold history regarding slavery and race relations that continues to have ramifications today.


Robert Ray Hamilton and Eva Steele

6. What attracted you to the subject of The Scandalous Hamiltons? 

 I live on the Upper west  Side of Manhattan – four blocks from my apartment building is the Hamilton Fountain. It is not large and is located in a fairly obscure location at the end of 76th Street and Riverside Drive. When I discovered that it was designed by Warren & Wetmore, designers of Grand Central Terminal and one of the most influential architectural firms of the early twentieth century, I asked myself why architects of that stature would be involved in this relatively unknown project. 

My attempt to answer that question led to a broad awareness of Ray and Eva’s tumultuous relationship. The more I dug into it, the more fascinating the story became. I thought that surely someone had a written a book about it – when I realized that no one had, I decided to do so.

7. The Gilded Age seems to be having a moment now with books, movies, and tv series. What is the source of the fascination that we have for the time?

 The Gilded age produced so many names that are still familiar today: Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Astor, etc. We still marvel at their mansions, art collections and other opulent displays of wealth. Beyond that, though, the Gilded Age represents the timeless division of haves and have-nots. Ray and Eva (to me, at least) quintessentially represent these two polar extremes.

At the same time that the robber barons were amassing spectacular fortunes, new waves of immigrants were packed cheek-to-jowl in tenement buildings. Some of the have-nots used the lives of the rich as an example to better their own, but many were unable to imagine the prosperity on display. The social and cultural divide created by such disparity also provided fuel for a new generation of artists and writers to highlight the differences between the moneyed class and those who were just scraping by.

Friday, June 17, 2022

7 Questions with Julia Sullivan, Author of Bone Necklace


Julia Sullivan started working on Bone Necklace more than twenty years ago, after visiting the Big Hole  Battlefield in Wisdom, Montana. She first became interested in the Nez Perce story because of the great  injustice the tribe had suffered. What kept her interested was their conduct during the war. While under  attack, the Nez Perce won the respect of a society in which prominent members were unapologetic racists.  At the end of the war, Canada offered them political asylum.  
Julia is a lawyer in the United States and a solicitor in England and Wales.   Throughout her career, she has worked to expose and root out injustice. Julia lives with her husband in Annapolis, Maryland, and  Hamilton, Montana.

1. How and when did you get hooked on history?

I got hooked on history by reading great historical fiction. My mom was an avid reader, so we always had books lying around the house. I remember reading James Michener’s The Source, and Leon Uris’s Exodus, and Herman Wouk’s War and Remembrance, and many others, and being absolutely amazed. I finished those books wanting to know more about what really happened.     

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

In 2000, I visited the Big Hole Battlefield in Wisdom, Montana, and it changed my life. I became fascinated with the story of the Nez Perce War of 1877. I was practicing law in Washington, D.C. at the time, and when I got home, I went to the National Archives to learn more. I spent weeks reading handwritten transcripts and correspondence. It was like a treasure hunt; every new discovery was a thrill. I became obsessed with the story. I started writing mostly as a way to organize my thoughts. Twenty-two years later, I finished Bone Necklace, a historical novel inspired by the Nez Perce story.

3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?

As a lawyer, my favorite part of any case is the investigation – figuring out what really happened, who witnessed it, and how things went wrong. In the old (pre-internet) days, I’d go to dusty warehouses and pour through boxes of documents, piecing together the stories, finding witnesses who could shine some light on one aspect of it or another. Each new discovery was a puzzle piece, and the stakes, in real time, could be very high. 

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

When I’m trying to solve a problem – whether it’s a legal problem, a business problem, or a family problem – I always start with the same question: what’s worked in the past and what hasn’t? Without some basic understanding of history, it’s very hard to move forward.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

I love American history. In 1976, the U.S. held a series of “bicentennial” celebrations of the historical events leading to the Declaration of Independence. At the time, my family lived in Concord, Massachusetts, the site of one of the earliest battles of the Revolutionary War. I remember visiting the sites and learning about the birth of democracy. I was hooked on history. And of course, as a lawyer, Constitutional history holds a particular fascination for me. 

6.        Where do you find your historical fiction inspiration? 

For Bone Necklace, my inspiration came from visiting the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war. In general, that’s how it works; I’ll see something or read something that captures my attention, and I’ll want to know more.  

7.       Please tell us about Bone Necklace?

Bone Necklace is inspired by America’s last “Indian War,” in which a small band of Native Americans held off four converging armies while their families escaped to Canada. The U.S. field commander, General Oliver “Uh Oh” Howard, promised to make “short work” of the Nez Perce – words he would soon regret. Chief Joseph became known as the “Red Napoleon,” which surprised nobody so much as Joseph himself. He would have done anything to avoid the war that made him famous. But what really fascinated me about this story – and what few historical accounts acknowledge – is that Chief White Bird escaped to Canada with nearly 300 people. I had no idea that Canada was giving political asylum to Native Americans at the time. 

In my view, the history of the west is too often portrayed as a tragedy – as if some fatal flaw in the character or culture of Native American people doomed them to a violent end. It’s a narrative that places the moral blame squarely on the victims. Bone Necklace confronts that lie.  

Friday, June 10, 2022

7 Questions With Rick Kilby, Author of Florida's Healing Waters


Orlando-based writer and graphic designer Rick Kilby is the author of Florida’s Healing Waters: Gilded Age Mineral Springs, Seaside Resorts, and Health Spas (University Press of Florida, 2020), which received the silver medal for Florida nonfiction from the Florida Book Awards and the Florida Historical Society’s Stetson Kennedy Award. His first book, Finding the Fountain of Youth: Ponce de León and Florida's Magical Waters (University Press of Florida, 2013), won a Florida Book Award in the Visual Arts category. Both titles can be purchased at .

1. How and when did you get hooked on history?

I think I can trace my love of history back to when I started working at a downtown Orlando attraction called Church Street Station. I was hired in the late 80s as a graphic designer and all the design work had to have a Victorian look and feel. Having never worked in that style I had to build a new visual vocabulary. My office was in the historic train depot and they had an incredible resource library. Every day I would pore through the books and I fell in love with Victorian typography. From there my love of historic architecture developed and visiting old buildings really helped my passion for history grow.


2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

I think when I start a research project I get slightly obsessed and I have to work hard to maintain balance in my life while allowing myself to be pulled by the momentum of that obsession. Since I have my own graphic design business, I have to plot out when I can do research, and as a result my wife and I often vacation in places related to my research. We’ve gone to places like Bath, England, Saratoga Springs, New York, and Hot Springs, Arkansas while I researched my book. I envy those who can do research full time, but I value the moments when I can fall down the rabbit hole, finding historical connections that call to be written about.


3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?

Although I make a living as a graphic designer, I have been fortunate enough to have the Orange County Regional History Center as a client for over 20 years. In addition to designing their history magazine, Reflections from Central Florida, I act as managing editor soliciting and occasionally writing articles for the publication. My writing career is a creative exercise that allows me to indulge myself in exciting research into Florida’s rich past more than a vocation.


4.         Why is studying/knowing history important?

At this point in American history it is critical that we know the truth about the past so we can move forward appropriately. There are many issues today that are controversial that have roots in the past and battles are being fought, in this state in particular, as to how that history is interpreted. As historians we need to speak up.


5.         What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

 At this point in my life, I am fascinated by the steamboat era in Florida. I call the period after the Civil War until the beginning of automobile travel Florida’s Golden Age of Bathing. Splendid Gilded Age hotels drew the nation’s elite to the Sunshine state in search of restoration and rejuvenation.

 I think it intrigues me so much because so many non-historians tend to think Florida didn’t exist before the mid-twentieth century. And there are few remnants left from that period, it’s almost easier to explore in vintage photography and print ephemera. I also think I really like the aesthetics of the period – the design and architecture.


6.        How did Florida’s Healing Waters affect Florida’s development? 

My thesis is that medical tourists and many healthy people who visited spas, (because it was what the wealthy elite did in the 19th century), were critical in the creation of Florida’s tourist economy that still exists today. Spa towns developed around springs, settlements grew around oceanside resorts where people practiced sea bathing, and hydrotherapy was practiced at sanitariums such as Florida Sanitarium, which is today the enormous Advent Heath hospital system. Florida’s waters were a resource that was commodified to help launch its economy after the Civil war.


7.       When it comes to Florida’s unique natural beauty, like its springs, in 2022 and the future, is it difficult to be an optimist?

Yes, it is very disheartening. Most of my talks surrounding my first book, Finding the Fountain of Youth, had an environmental message. While it was well received, the impact has been negligible, and if anything, the state has gone backwards in environmental stewardship. I deliberately focus on the historical aspects of my current book, more than the environmental message. But I often slip in a bit about planting native plants because I think that is what individuals can do to have the biggest impact on the environment that surrounds them.

Friday, June 3, 2022

7 Questions With Ada Lin, of Ages of Europe


Ada Lin is currently residing in Silicon Valley, and will be starting her college journey at the University of British Columbia in September. With her new interest in European history, she dedicates a few hours each week to her instagram page @agesofeurope.  For more links,

1. What got you hooked on history?

I got into history pretty recently actually, only about 2 ish years ago! As an avid Game of Thrones fan, I decided one day to learn about the history (particularly the Wars of the Roses) that inspired the TV series by watching some documentaries. That got me interested in the medieval times. Then I also had to take AP European History in tenth grade, which enormously contributed to my now immense interest in studying history!

2. How does history play a role in your personal life?

In a way, history gives me freedom. And it’s not just history actually - other areas like literature and philosophy apply as well. It’s like I’ve been armed with knowledge to go about freely exploring what the world has to offer, without needing to worry too much about getting completely swayed by some biased or false information, since I have an idea about the context in which things became what they are now. I remember learning about Otto von Bismarck and the unification of modern Germany and being like wow, so that’s what provided the context for World War I. Whenever I get confused by current events or get stuck in existential thought, I turn towards history. Now, whenever I digest things, I have a more inquisitive, calm, and compassionate approach, because things are always more complicated than we anticipate.

3. How does history play a role in your professional life?

 I’ll be a college freshman in September and I won’t be majoring in history, but my interest in history will always fuel me to explore more. I think continuing my Ages of Europe instagram and webpage would be a good continuous goal for me to keep on learning and sharing, no matter what other paths I’ll take in the future. I have no idea what careers I’ll be going into, but if it involves history in any way, I’ll be very content!

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

History is so important for us to contextualize the world we live in today. Tracing the development of wars, rebellions, intellectual developments, and reform movements reveals a lot about how current international relations and world politics can go. As Hegel points out, history operates like a dialectic: we are forever swinging on a pendulum, as trends rise in popularity and invert themselves with a reaction in the opposite direction. Repeating history (or “rhyming history,” as Mark Twain remarks) is inevitable, but we’re able to form more nuanced conclusions, better understand our disagreements, and develop more kindness for others as we realize that history is complicated, and there are always multiple sides to every story.

5. What is your favorite period of history to learn about?

I started out by really loving the medieval times - the wars, the dynastic struggles, the scandals, and the betrayals. Everything seemed like a fairy tale. But then as I took more history classes I began to appreciate the more intellectual aspect of history - how new ideas inspired rebellions and reform that have taken us to where we are today. I make an effort to read the works of thinkers like Marcus Aurelius, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Friedrich Nietzsche; some of these nonfiction texts can be pretty grueling to read through, but in the end their writing reveals so much about both the individual self and society as a whole. It was their ideas that have greatly influenced people to self improve, and to shape the world as they see fit.

6. How did Ages of Europe come about?

The summer after taking AP European History, I wanted a place to store all my historical findings. I started to randomly write about some wars and revolutions in Europe that I was fascinated and relatively knowledgeable in, and post my writing on instagram just to see what would happen. That’s where I found a wonderful network of historians on the platform and decided to continue! Now this has turned into a very enjoyable hobby. I’ve also invited a friend of mine to join me (she helps with visual design).

7. What do you hope your followers on social media take away from your posts?

I sincerely hope that with my instagram page, I am able to encourage more people to turn toward history as a way of making sound decisions and rational conclusions (though, I admit, rationality has its limits) about the world around us. Now that social media is a big thing (and I, like many others, are a part of this wide crazy network), information overflow can be a problem to our comprehension of current events. Even though I’m contributing to that overflow in a way, I hope that, with a better understanding of historical developments, my readers will be more socially conscious, which doesn’t mean advocating for whatever is trendy or sharing news for the sake of popularity, but instead means having the power to think through everything ourselves.